Saturday, September 26, 2009

Westward Bound and onto a new leaf in the NT: deliverance in a land of promise

Retrospective: a story to fill the gap between Cairns and Alice.

Leaving Cairns was a busy few days: reef cruise one day, mountain climb the next, heading west (and some caving) the day after that. Pretty hectic and I was buggered - SO much did I enjoy hitting the open road. I don't need rest - riding is my tonic.

The road to Chillagoe - with its semi-above-ground limestone caves - pushed no buttons, for a number of reasons (like traffic and dust). The road out of it pushed buttons alright, but not the right ones! The stretch was one of those country dirt roads that just flows over the undulations of the landscape, no matter what they may be. All very well, except in tropical country relatively flat ground is intersperced by subtle floodways and dry rivers - subtle, that is, until you run into one. It looks as though the road slopes into a gentle dip like the four or five you have just passed through - it is not until you are on the cusp of it that you realise the centre of the dip drops out, and it takes another moment (a panic-riddled moment) to work out what greets you at the bottom of it. Many of these contain craters left by the huge forces of road trains blasting through them - on two occasions I was caught out and rode straight through battlefields no sane road rider would wish to attempt. The second was the more dramatic - I hit a bump on the way down (within that panic-riddled moment), hard on the brakes, violent enough to blur my vision which meant I only had long enough to confirm that the dip was dry - but seated with a set of deep ridges. Throttle on at the last minute, and as both ends bottomed out with a huge clunk the bike skittled over and washed out almost off the edge of the (staight) roadway on the other side. That, however, was nowhere near as intimidating as the one before: a gentle hill descended at the last minute into a murky puddle. And not a concrete bottomed puddle, but a sand-bottomed bike swallowing one! Hard on both brakes - handlebars flapping, rear end dragging through the deep, moist sand that lined the last ten metres before an expected over-the-handlebars wet-and-wild flying trip. By some miracle the tyres pulled through, and the sand proved grippy enough for me to pull up with a good metre or two to spare.

That deep channel towards the right is my hitting the soft stuff.

It might sound like I was going too fast - but at 70km an hour, on 160km of dead straight - largely well-surfaced - dirt, it felt like I was crawling. The dips just drop away so suddenly that no margin of safety will cover you completely. After the third adventure I made a policy of virtually stopping at the crest of any dip that I couldn't absolutely confirm the extent of. It felt ridiculous, but I got through from there without drama.

So pleased to see tar...

From there! Well the road got better before it got worse - and that it got. Less surprises, true, but rough as guts. My destination ended up Bourketown - you know, famous for the Morning Glory clouds? Well, the clouds never came, and I got over Bourketown very, very quickly indeed for a range of reasons... More testing dirt under the belt and I was back onto the highway which would take me Westward through Cloncurry and Isa.

Cloncurry on a Sunday proved little more lively than Bourketown, but Isa on the Monday was a pleasant change - friendly for a mining town, and a good opportunity to get stuff done.

I got talked out of taking the back road to Alice (and for the better - I spoke to a guy who rode through there on his dirtbike who confessed to binning it a handful of times - god knows how well I'd have faired), so onward it was along the tar - hardly complaining for that, with the beauty of the country around Isa.

Soon enough I was in the NT and onto a new leaf in a new land.

Tennant Creek proved a nice little stop - it's only a small town, sure, with a sad former significance as a mining town (every town besides Isa seems to have had the same stories of grandeur and excitement long passed), but with a positive outlook and a great community spirit.

The road from there to Alice I've already written about in reverse (it's great!), and Alice - well you've gotten Alice - so I suppose I've filled that hole. (Though I confess to being overly brief.)


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